Where to Go When You Lose Health Insurance
Last year, 28.5 million Americans still did not have health insurance. That does not include the number of consumers who purchased health insurance and then lost it or dropped it during the year for various reasons. Not having health insurance doesn’t mean you can’t access medical care. This is a story of one option that continues to grow in the U.S.
Dr. Maimuna Baig has practiced medicine for more than 30 years. In that time she noticed a growing need in her community.
“I have practiced in Warrenton, Missouri for a long time. I would find that some patients would just stop coming,” Dr. Baig said. “I found out that they had lost their insurance. They had nowhere to go. For a long time, I was feeling helpless. I talked to administrators and supervisors and I said, ‘I need to start a free clinic. How do I do that?’”
Dr. Baig was taught by her father and grandfather that practicing medicine was a community service and she should always look for ways to give back. She grew up in India and when she moved to America, her father remarked that America didn’t need community service because everyone was wealthy.
But Dr. Baig found otherwise. She found a population who was going without medical care and leaving serious conditions unchecked; conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, which could cause serious health consequences if left untreated.
“When you have a close bond with your patients, you have faces connected,” Dr. Baig said. “It’s not an unknown population. It’s people you know in the community. I feel like in a country like this, that the whole world looks up to, I think it is a basic right to have basic medical care.”
St. Louis Location:
In 2009, Dr. Baig opened the Crossroads Clinic in Lake St. Louis in partnership with Volunteers in Medicine (VIM). The Crossroads Clinic provides free medical care to those who are not covered by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance, and who live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. In 2010, Dr. Baig co-founded a second clinic - VIM – West County.
The clinics work like any other primary care practice. Patients see the doctors or nurse practitioners to stay on top of their health. If the doctor identifies an issue, the patient will be sent to a specialist for testing, x-rays and even surgery, often at no cost to the patient.
Both clinics are operated by volunteer medical professionals, including physicians, nurses and psychiatrists. And Dr. Baig still urges more physicians to donate their time to meet the needs of the uninsured.
“It’s not just me,” Dr. Baig said. “The only reason these clinics are going is because of the dedication of all the people. It takes a lot to take care of one patient. There is a huge group of people that take care of one patient.”
What is VIM?
VIM is a national nonprofit whose goal is to promote, guide and help sustain a national network of free primary healthcare clinics for the uninsured.
VIM began in Hilton Head, South Carolina in 1994. The idea for the clinic started with an observation made by VIM founder Dr. Jack McConnell.
When doing his rounds and visiting patients one afternoon he noticed that he did not see any African-American patients in the hospital. He thought that strange and asked why. He was given the vague and unsatisfying answer that African-American patients go someplace else. This didn’t make sense to Dr. McConnell and he turned his attention to the community.
At that time, one out of three people who lived on Hilton Head Island had no access to healthcare. Dr. McConnell, along with a few colleagues, felt everyone who lived and worked in their community should have access to quality health care. Thus, VIM was born. And, it caught the attention of medical communities around the nation.
Today there are 93 VIM clinics in 27 states.
How Can I Make an Appointment?
VIM provides free healthcare, but to make an appointment at a VIM clinic, patients typically have to meet certain eligibility requirements.
Generally, VIM clinics serve adults 18-64 who do not have health insurance, including Medicaid.
VIM clinics serve adults who earn at or below a certain percentage of the federal poverty level. Many clinics serve those making 200 percent or less, but some have a lower percentage as a requirement.
200% Federal Poverty Level
|Individual||For 2 Family Members||For 3 Family Members||For 4 Family Members||For More Than 4 Family Members|
Clinics also require the patient to live within its geographical area, but this area requirement can vary widely. You may need to live within the county or the clinic may restrict access to within a group of municipalities.
In addition, because clinics are staffed by volunteers, hours may be limited. A clinic may only be open in the mornings two or three days per week.
If you think you meet the general requirements, it is best to call your local clinic to verify eligibility.